Tennessee track champion Justin Gatlin returned to global glory on Saturday afternoon, shocking the world by winning the 100 meters at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in London.
The 35-year-old Gatlin turned on his afterburners in the final 10 meters, bursting from the outside to pass Jamaican star Usain Bolt and fellow former Vols star Christian Coleman, who were running in Lane 3 and Lane 4, respectively.
Gatlin ran a 9.92-second time to claim gold in the final, besting Coleman’s silver-medal run of 9.94 and Bolt’s final gallop of 9.95 at London Stadium.
“I didn’t think about myself — I thought about my parents in the stands and all my supporters … my countrymen who were watching at home,” Gatlin said during the live NBC telecast.
“I didn’t do it for me,” he said. “All the times I’ve lost to Usain and I’ve gotten silver and bronzes, I did it for others who really wanted me to go out there and do it.”
Gatlin held his finger to his mouth to “shhh” the London crowd that had booed him during his introduction and throughout the event.
But then Gatlin turned and kneeled, bowing at feet of the 30-year-old Bolt to honor the three-time 100-meter Olympic gold medal winner after what Bolt has said will be the final race of his legendary career.
Gatlin, from Pensacola, Fla., has also had a tremendous career. Gatlin won six consecutive NCAA titles during his two years at Tennessee (2001-2002) before going on to win the gold medal in the 100 meters at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Gatlin went on to win his only other World Athletics Championships in the 100 meters in 2005 in Helsinki before getting hit with a four-year suspension from 2006-2010 after a drug test showed “testosterone or its precursors” in his system.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Gatlin ran a personal-best 9.79 seconds, but Bolt won the gold medal with an Olympic-record time of 9.63 and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake finished in 9.75.
Some five years later, Gatlin finally found a way to beat Bolt in the 100 meter finals, something no other sprinter had done in the Olympics or world championships.
“I know at that point and time, at the starting line it was the Coleman and Usain Bolt show,” Gatlin said. “I know I had somewhat of an advantage in Lane 8, but I also had a disadvantage because I couldn’t see them, so I just ran for my life.
“I dreamed about this day. I’ve worked hard for this day, and it took for me to not be selfish and think about myself and to think about others to give me that fight, and that’s what mattered the most.”
Coleman and Bolt entered the final as the favorites, having run the fastest times in the preliminaries leading up to the final.
Coleman, a 21-year-old from Atlanta, ended up beating Bolt twice in one day in London in his world championship debut.